After what can only be described as an ultra-successful season opener down under in Adelaide, Australia, Robby Gordon brought his Stadium Super trucks to the waterfront streets of downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida for the second stop of a 10-event 2015 championship season. Running in support of the Verizon Indy Car series, the trucks would contest rounds four and five of their championship season on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course.
The series returns to Saint Petersburg for the second time, following a very exciting debut during the 2014 Honda Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg. The first day of action in 2014 saw a fast-moving cold front that brought torrential rain to the race course, but Gordon and his crew were undaunted and took to the very wet and very slippery track, and gave the rain-soaked race fans a race they are still talking about today. Gordon won the race, and finished second to P.J. Jones the next day, under beautiful, bluebird skies, and bright Florida sunshine.
2015 looked as though it would be a repeat of the previous year. The forecast called for rain throughout the day Friday and Friday night, but the rest of the weekend looked good with plenty of sunshine and cooler temperatures. Friday afternoon the rains were heavy and understandably, the Verizon Indy cars opted to stay in the paddock rather than risk damage on the wet racing surface. The race fans that were still there braving the elements were, of course, disappointed.
When the Stadium Super trucks took the track for their practice session Friday afternoon, the crowd came out of hiding and swarmed to the trackside fencing to watch the trucks do their thing. Although speeds were a bit slower, 17-year-old Sheldon Creed, from Alpine, California, driving the TRAXXAS-sponsored truck was quickest, with a respectable lap time of one-minute 58-seconds on the rain-soaked raceway. When the session had concluded, fans were already excited about what the trucks would do tomorrow on a dry surface.
Saturday morning dawned under clear skies, sunshine, and comfortable temperatures in the upper 60s. A large crowd was filing in for what would be a full day of on-track action. Race one for the trucks was scheduled for late afternoon, but the topic of conversation over morning coffee was the cool-looking trucks with the big knobby tires, and just how crazy the guys that drive them must be.
Meanwhile, while the fans were enjoying the open wheel and sports car action, the Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks crew were busy preparing the trucks for race one. For those unfamiliar with or new to the series, the trucks are all identical, purpose-built race machines, and by identical we mean down to the last nut and bolt. The trucks all come out of the same shop and are built and prepared by the same crew.
They all use a slightly modified fuel-injected, LS3-based, GM motor that produces 650 hp. The trucks are two-wheel-drive and feature a four-link suspension system with 26-inches of total travel. The entire package rides on unmodified DOT-approved 35×12.5R17 Toyo A/T Open Country tires.
As the Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks rolled out on the starting grid for their first race of the weekend, the crowd pushed in against the trackside fencing to get the best view possible of the impending action that was about to take place. Fathers hoisted their children up on their shoulders, and the folks sitting in the reserved seating sections were on their feet as well. A number of the Indy Car drivers – Ryan Hunter-Rhey, Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, and rookie of the year candidate Gabby Chaves – were all seen by the trackside fence taking in the action.
As the trucks passed under the green flag, the deep throaty roar of the 650 hp GM motors reverberated off the grandstands lining the front straight of the temporary street circuit. The trucks charged into turn one and headed for the first jump, as the trucks soared nearly 20 feet off the pavement; the already amped up crowd screamed an approval that was easily heard over the rumble of the exhausts. As the race wore on, it looked pretty evident that either Sheldon Creed, the 17-year-old from Alpine, California, or the former Indy Car chauffeur, E.J.Viso, would come out victorious.
The two drivers battled side by side for much of the race, swapping the lead back and forth. As the field passed the starters stand on the last lap, Viso had a slight lead over Creed. At the first ramp, Creed had moved alongside of Viso and the two drivers took the jump side by side. Creed passed Viso in the air, nearly lost control of his truck as it landed hard on the front wheels, and darted hard left. Viso battled back and regained the lead at the next corner.
Viso looked to have the race under control at this point, but overdrove the tight left hand turn 10. Creed saw his opportunity and went inside Viso to take the front spot back. Keegan Kincaid and Robby Gordon, running third and fourth at the time, also took advantage of Viso’s mistake and relegated him to fourth place. Creed drove to his second win of the year with fellow TRAXXAS teammate Kinkaid second, and series founder Gordon third.
During the autograph session following the first race, long lines of race fans made a point to thank the drivers for introducing them to this new, exciting form of racing, and many wanted to know where and when the series would return. “2015 is just our third year in operation,” series founder Robby Gordon offered. “My goal is to put together a schedule that would include maybe five street course events, and five stand alone stadium events. I would love to come back here and race at Raymond James Stadium, but that is something we will consider down the road.”
When the gates opened at 7 a.m. Sunday morning for the Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg, there was an excitement in the air. Race fans were anxious for the action to get underway, and there seemed to be a pressing question on the minds of many of the fans in attendance: “What time do the trucks race?”
Shortly after 2 p.m. the Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks took to the primary east west runway of Albert-Whitted Airport that serves as the front straight on the course. The starting grid for race two was a complete inversion of the results of race one, meaning yesterday’s front three, Creed, Kinkaid, and Gordon, would start from the rear. At the drop of the green, Scotty Steele from Peoria, Arizona jumped out to an early lead, with the Gladiator-sponsored truck of Burt Jenner in close pursuit. The four contenders from race one, starting deep in the rear, immediately started working through traffic and were soon running at the front half of the field.
Jenner inherited the lead when Steele experienced mechanical issues and pulled behind the wall on lap three. Jenner never looked back after that and cruised to his first-ever series victory. The real fight was taking place behind Jenner, as Creed, and Viso once again were side by side racing for second. Just like race one, the two drivers gave no concessions to each other. On the final lap, the two combatants were literally hooked together after coming off the jump at the start of the long front straight, and stayed that way for nearly the entire length of the straightaway. And just like race one, Kincaid and Gordon were there to take advantage of the mistake by Creed and Viso. They would finish second and third for the second day in a row. Creed and Viso rounded out the top five.
A smiling Jenner waved to the crowd and stated during his post-race interview, “For some of these guys it’s just another win, but for me, this is my first. It’s special and something I’ve been preparing for since I was a kid.”
Montoya at the conclusion of the Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg, race fans exited the grounds knowing they had experienced some of the finest racing action in North America. One thing was certain; The fans came to Saint Petersburg to see the Verizon Indy Cars, but they left talking about the Stadium Super Trucks.When the checkered flag waved over Juan Pablo
The next stop for the Speed Energy Formula Stadium Super Trucks presented by TRAXXAS is the Long Beach Grand Prix in Long Beach, California, April 17–19.
For additional information on the Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks presented by TRAXXAS, visit their web site at www.Stadiumsupertrucks.com